Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview
Overview of Fayetteville, AR

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Getting from Here to There--Transportation in NW Arkansas

I came across an article the other day regarding a proposal for a high-speed, state-of-the-art rail line that might someday run between San Diego, California and Vancouver, B.C. While I don’t expect NW Arkansas will ever be ready for something like that, it did get me thinking (again) about the need to improve transportation in our area.

I’ve written about this problem before – but I don’t see a lot of significant progress.

For example, plans for a proposed light rail system in NW Arkansas don’t seem to be any further along than they were a couple of years ago. In fact, I don’t know if they’re still on the drawing board.

NW Arkansas is still very “car” oriented. There are decent bus lines but the funding is limited which means the routes are limited. The majority of folks in NW Arkansas have multiple vehicles and multiple garages to house them. Want to go to the movies? Get in the car! Want a hamburger? Get in the car! We bank from our car, get our prescriptions and other items at the drive-through. This love affair with the automobile will not help the new "Green" image NW Arkansas is trying to promote.

Meanwhile, traffic on I-540 and the connector roads during the rush hours grows worse by the day. I-540 needs to be widened to 6 lanes (3 north, 3 south). There’s good news lately about the Bella Vista bypass. Currently, the high-speed interstate ends in Bella Vista and cars and trailer trucks crawl through a town with several traffic lights. When the traffic finally reaches Missouri, the road once again becomes a high-speed highway. Lack of funding has delayed this project for years.

Now it appears the Arkansas and Missouri highway commissions will make a joint request for funds for the Bella Vista bypass from the $1.5 billion federal stimulus money being made available to states for major highway projects.

The proposed Hwy. 412 bypass north of Springdale was finally approved last year but doesn't have the money to even acquire the land--never mind actual construction.

My mother used to say "make hay while the sun shines." The sun is now glowing brighter than ever with the $787 billion economic stimulus bill Congress approved plus we have a sympathetic ear in Washington these days.

Those in positions to do something about the transportation situation in NW Arkansas should get on the stick and do whatever it takes to obtain funding for necessary infrastructure improvements. If we can’t get a light rail system up and running, we need to improve roads.

The city of Springdale has been proactive in developing alternative routes to Hwy. 412 for east/west transportation, which was always a nightmare, especially during rush hour. Huntsville Road is now almost done with 4-5 lanes from I-540 going east to Hwy. 412. The new Don Tyson Parkway across the south side of town was exceptional planning and now provides a great alternative to Hwy. 412. And work continues on another east-west road across the northern part of the city. Springdale has shown great foresight in passing bonds to get these improvements completed.

Rogers built a new exit from I-540 to the Pinnacle Hills Mall. Another example of foresight is the recently widened New Hope Road.

Bentonville improved S. Walton Blvd. from a little two-lane road to 5-lanes (and it’s jammed with traffic). I can’t imagine how that city could have grown as it has without widening that major road.

Contrast this to Fayetteville, where the ‘head in the sand’ mentality seems to prevail with regard to growth. The ‘Keep Fayetteville Funky’ folks would like that growth not happen, but it is happening and must be dealt with in a positive manner and with foresight. I don’t mean to imply Fayetteville hasn’t done anything. Indeed, the widening of Hwy. 16 West (Wedington) has really improved transportation to I-540. And in the near future, a similar project will widen Mt. Comfort Road.

On the other hand, getting from the east side of Fayetteville to the west side (or vice versa) is a nightmare. Having a mountain in the middle of town doesn't help, of course, but people rightfully expect to move expeditiously from one side of town to the other and funky little two-lane roads do not cut it.

The wider Joyce Blvd. is great, but we also need wider and easier access on the south end of town and through the middle of town. I can't picture a 4-5 lane through the historic district, so Township would seem to be IT in this regard. There was a proposal several years ago to make Township a 4-lane road from Crossover to Gregg Street. It was blocked by residents along that route, especially from College to Crossover, and I fully sympathize with property owners there. On the other hand, the few residents that this would have affected need to be cognizant of larger goals.

If we are proactive in transportation and infrastructure, our area will continue to be on national lists of "10 Best" places to live. If we keep burying our heads in the sand while hoping for a miracle, growth will come to a stand still along with the traffic.

This area is still growing and will continue to do so. Any major improvement will take years and lots of money to accomplish but if we formulate tangible plans and work with our elected officials in Washington, it might be possible to get moving. It’s time to get on the stick and do whatever it takes to obtain funding for necessary infrastructure.

If we can’t get a light rail system up and running, or at least a public bus system, we need to improve roads.

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